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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013--Resumed

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. McCAIN. As we are wrapping up, I would like to tell the Senator from Oklahoma he is correct.

Former Secretary of Defense Gates, probably the most respected Secretary of Defense we have had in many years, said, ``Health care costs are,'' in his words, ``eating us alive.''

None of us, I don't know a single Member of this body, no matter where they are, who doesn't want to make sure our veterans are cared for, the widows, the orphans, the veterans, as Abraham Lincoln described them. We are going to have to find ways to bring these costs under control and still, at the same time, provide our veterans with the benefits they have earned.

I know of no one who joined the military because of TRICARE--I hear from all the retirees and all that--they joined the military because of TRICARE. I have not yet met a single 18-year-old, including my own son, who joined the Marine Corps who said: Gee, I want to join the Marine Corps because of TRICARE. No, they joined the military because they want to serve their country.

They understand our obligation to them is not to hand them a bankrupt Defense Department, that all the costs are in things such as TRICARE and retirement benefits and other personnel costs so we can't provide them with what they need to fight.

I understand the positions of the veterans groups in this country. I respect them, I love them, and I appreciate them. But we are going to have to get serious about entitlements for the military just as we are going to have to get serious about entitlements for nonmilitary.

I admit our veterans are in a special category. No group of Americans has been willing to serve and sacrifice as our veterans have, although there are certainly other Americans who sacrifice and serve in many other ways.

I say to my friend from Oklahoma, I look forward, perhaps next year--I hope the Reed amendment will not be proposed at this time. We need to sit down with the chairman, and we will have to have some hearings to find out what these future costs of health care will be. For example, I believe it has gone now from 11 percent--health care costs have gone from 11 percent now to 13 percent of the entire defense budget, and it will continue higher. We can't keep doing that.

We adopted an amendment by Senator Gillibrand on autism services. The way it is written will require an increase of $1.7 billion over the next 10 years and no way to pay for it. I appreciate the dedication of the Senator from New York, but her answer was: We would like to work with you on that.

We have to do more than work on it. We have to solve it. All I can say is while we are waiting, I hope we understand that here it is. The DOD health care costs represent nearly 11 percent of the total budget request for DOD, and it will continue to rise to more than 13 percent. Then it will go even higher and higher and higher.

There was an editorial in the Washington Post today that says, ``Time to Rein in TRICARE.'' It says, in part:

..... the administration plans cuts, including shrinking the Army and the Marine Corps. This is risky, given the potential threats the United States faces.

Unfortunately, Congress is compounding the problem by protecting expensive items that inflate personnel costs without any corresponding payoff in defense readiness.''

So I would urge my colleagues to pay attention to the editorial in the Washington Post, ``Time To Rein In Tricare,'' because I think it is important for us to understand.

Let me quote from the article:

Tricare's costs have surged in recent years from $19 billion in fiscal year 2001 to $52.8 billion in fiscal 2011.

I repeat: In 2001 TRICARE costs were $19 billion. In 2011 it was $52.8 billion.

Much of the growth was driven by Congresses' 2001 decision to add what is essentially a free Medigap plan for retirees over 65. But the main issue is the ultra-low fees and deductibles--which give retirees still of working age little incentive to economize or choose employer plans. President Obama's budget plan would save $12.8 billion over five years by gradually increasing working-age retirees' annual enrollment fees, with lower-income retirees paying the least, and then adjusting them according to national health spending growth thereafter.

We would not be doing any of that with this bill. We would not be doing any of that. But I would argue this is not the time now, as we finish with this bill, to add another additional cost that we have not found ways to pay for, which consumes a larger and larger part of the defense budget.

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AMENDMENT NO. 3054

Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, I rise to explain the scope of, and intent behind, my amendment on naval vessel naming. Amendment No. 3054, as modified, to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2013 is a direct response to recent criticism that the Secretary of the Navy has, in some instances, politicized the ship naming process.

Since its establishment, the U.S. Navy has developed a rich tradition of vessel naming. Traditional sources for vessel names customarily encompassed categories such as geographic locations in the United States; historic sites, battles, and ships; naval and military heroes and leaders; and, other noted individuals who have made distinguished contributions to the Navy or our Nation's national security. The name the Navy selects for a vessel should reflect the very best of our Nation's and our Navy's great heritage. It should impart a sense of honor and serve as an inspiration for the vessel's crew. It should not, in any way, be tarnished by controversy. Unfortunately, controversy and criticism have surrounded some of the Secretary's recent vessel naming choices.

This amendment seeks to avoid similar controversy in the future. It sets forth necessary and appropriate standards, grounded in historical practice, to guide the Secretary of the Navy's decisions on vessel naming. It requires that the Secretary assure the Senate and House Committees on Armed Services that the proposed vessel name comports with those standards 30 days before announcing or assigning a vessel's name.

Under the procedure established by my amendment, I fully intend and expect that the Navy will not move forward with any vessel naming proposal, unless the Congressional defense committees approve. Much as the Department of Defense seeks prior approval for reprogramming requests, the Secretary of the Navy should secure the prior approval of the Congressional defense committees before announcing or implementing a vessel naming proposal.

I take no joy or pride in this amendment, but believe it is necessitated by the spate of controversies over the last few years. I sincerely hope the amendment helps the U.S. Navy preserve the high standards it has traditionally employed for vessel naming.

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